By Jeremy Pierce
April 1, 2010
I recently encountered the claim (that I see often enough) that the U.S. Constitution defined slaves as 3/5 of a person. That claim is actually false. The Constitution did no such thing. What it did is count them as 3/5 toward representation, which was a compromise between those who didn't want them represented and those who thought they should count fully. Here is what the actual wording said:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
The wording actually assumes they are full persons. It distinguishes between the contribution to the census from free persons and the contribution from other persons. It's 3/5 of the number of other persons that gets added to the number of free persons. It's not that slaves are 3/5 of a person.
And for the record, it was those who opposed slavery who didn't want them counted and those who favored it who did, because counting them as full persons would mean more representation in Congress for their states (and yet the voting for those states wouldn't involve the slaves voting, of course, so it's even more influence for the slave-holders if they counted fully).
If we take the constitutional wording to imply that slaves were only viewed as 3/5 of a person, we should also conclude that abolitionists must not have thought slaves were real people, because they wanted them counted as zero, and slaveowners must have thought they were indeed real people, because they wanted them counted as full persons. It's not as if those who favored slavery were defining slaves as less than full persons. It was those who opposed slavery who didn't want their slaves counting toward representation when they didn't have representation who were behind this.
Interestingly, the roles had been reversed for the debate over an amendment on this for the Articles of Confederation, because that debate was over how much in taxes the states had to pay, where the non-slave states wanted slave states to pay more due to their higher population. You would have more success making that argument in this case, because at least the roles line up that way, but that would misunderstand what the issues were.Full Article: http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2010/04/three-fifths.html